As many of you know I started the first “Pink Time” Page over 4 years ago with my dear friend Vicki as an outlet to not only share her personal breast cancer journey, but also to inspire others facing their own. Vicki came into my life like a whirlwind and captured my heart instantly. I cannot express how much she has inspired me over the past few years. Her deep sense of self, her ability to find a positive within every negative and her natural love of life always leaves me feeling good about who I am and what I have. I think it is this life perspective that gave her strength when she needed it most and I am very happy to announce that this past October marked 5 years since the start of her journey. She is living life to the fullest and enjoying the tropical weather during these cold winter months. She is still inspiring me despite the miles between us. One of the most amazing yet scary aspects of all this is that she has always made reference to the fact that our “journey” was not over and that there was something much bigger that tied our hearts together early on.
Her intuitions were correct, something bigger then both of us was happening from the moment we first met. This past week, I myself was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am 33 years old, I have no family history, and no common environmental risk factors, so to say this caught us off guard is an understatement. (This photo of my dear friend Vicki and I is from 4 years ago. The copy in the upper right hand corner was placed at the time this shot was taken and now serves as an eerie reminder that even then we knew that our journey had just begun and that there was something much bigger that tied our hearts together early on)
For those who are wondering I did find the lump myself and called my OB/GYN within a few weeks. Unfortunately my original appointment was rescheduled because my doctor was called into and emergency C-section so I was set up to see another OB/GYN in her place. In the time leading up to my appointment my mind went through every possible scenario. I will admit that in the beginning I did start to prepare for the worst. I had done the research and I knew that what I found was a little concerning in form, yet I still managed to convince myself that I was worrying for no reason. I will admit I was a bit nervous to see a new doctor for an appointment of this nature but she made me feel right at home because before she even shut the office door behind her she was already digging into my concerning medical history from years past that had never been addressed with me. She was calm, patient and informative from the get go and did tell me I should have it looked at further. I didn’t feel she seemed extremely concerned, however I could tell she wasn’t willing to take any risks, which put my mind at ease. She suggested I have an ultrasound and mentioned that she planned to get in touch with a radiologist to talk about my findings to get a feel on further testing. I got a call from her that night and email from her the following morning. She said that she talked to a radiologist and they felt I needed to have an ultrasound, a mammogram and potentially a biopsy right away to rule out a potential cancer risk. At this point I was a little worried but oddly still hopeful that they were just being cautious.
This brings us to last Tuesday. I met my amazing friend Sarah at the Lemon Holten Cancer Pavilion (saying that name still makes my stomach sink a bit). Jordan had to take care of Corryn so she wanted to be there for moral support and to also bring comic relief. Looking back on it now I should have realized that I had bad news coming because every single technician and nurse that treated me got a bit teary eyed while in my presence. It all happened so fast yet seemed like an eternity at the same time. I started with an initial exam with a very nice nurse and then I was sent to a separate waiting room away from the room Sarah was waiting in. As I looked around I saw women over 40 waiting for their yearly mammogram and I saw women with fear on their faces. None of it seemed real. It was very much like a dream or outer body experience. I had been siting there a few minutes waiting for my ultrasound when a young female technician came to get me for a mammogram instead. From the moment she made eye contact with me she looked as if she was on the verge of crying. I told myself she was fighting with her boyfriend and continued to stay positive through the imaging. As I was walked back the waiting room I realized that there were also women in this room that were not patients so I texted Sarah to have her join me. As we talked about how this was just a big scare, cracked jokes, and made small talk, I was asked to head back for additional mammogram scans. Almost immediately after I returned back to the waiting room I was greeted by an ultrasound tech. She was very upbeat and cheery unlike my first technician but I still sensed something in her eyes. She casually talked to me about my day as she started the to run the wand over my breast, however the conversation started to slow. As I stared at the eerie photographic ceiling tiles above the table I was lying on, I started to realize she was seeing something concerning. Just then she told me she needed to talk to the radiologist and that she would be right back. I sensed panic in her voice as she tried desperately to make this seem like a routine part of the process.
While she was gone, I managed to distract myself but deep down I was realizing what was happening. Oddly I didn’t panic or even think the worst as I was doing the previous week, instead a very strange calmness came over my body. All of my worries and concerns had dissipated and I now had my game-face on. It was almost as if I had got all the scary thoughts out of my system and I was ready for what I knew was about to smack me in the face.
That was when my technician came back into the room. She told me that the radiologist wanted to see me in his office because he preferred his computer screens. She then asked if I had anyone there with me that could join me in his office. I remember this moment so vividly. I calmly and bluntly asked her if I needed to have someone with me? Instantly her eyes welled up with tears and as she struggled to say “yes the doctor thinks this is serious”, I cut her off. I told her that I had a friend in the waiting room and her name was Sarah. Everything after this moment is a blur. I know I was lead into the office of a radiologist and he struggled to say what I knew he had to say. He danced around it a bit talking about different things he found on my scans while giving me what seemed like no information at all. And then the words came out of his mouth. He said, I think this is serious. I think you have two forms of breast cancer. I don’t remember much else about my very short conversation with him, however I know that as I heard the words “breast cancer” I felt the comforting arms of both Sarah and my nurse on my back.
It wasn’t long after that, that I found myself in a different room with my original nurse and Sarah by my side. I remember saying “is there any way that he can be wrong?” and hearing the response; “We’re pretty sure he isn’t wrong, but medical miracles do happen”. I think this was the point where I mentally checked out and my mind went numb. I didn’t cry in fact I still haven’t. I just sat there calmly as the words seemed to be spinning around me. It felt a bit odd that this appointment had taken such a quick turn for the worst and I hadn’t let Jordan be there with me, but I have sense realized that Sarah was the “perfect” person to be sitting by my side. My husband is amazing, but even he will admit that staying calm is not one of his strongest features. Sarah was noticeably emotional, but she was comforting, she was calm and she quickly went into help-mode as she started writing down every detail that came out of nurse’s mouth. She wrote down everything from the scary details to the surgeon’s and doctors that the nurse was confidently and secretly recommending under her breath. “I remember her saying we are not supposed do this, but you are young, you are beautiful and you are the same age as my daughter… You deserve the best.” Her words were like a giant hug. We kept talking for what seemed like hours until there really wasn’t much left to say. Just blank stares and comforting hugs. At this point I believe we had been in the office for a good 3-4+ hours and they were no longer able to preform my biopsy. Instead I was to report back the next day. However I had already been told that they were pretty certain this was cancer so I now had to not only tell my husband, but also my parents.
My parents traveled to Grand Rapids the following morning and joined Jordan and I at the hospital for my biopsies. I was to have 2 areas biopsied and I was told that they may try to sample a lymph node as well. It was like starting the previous day all over again. I still had my game-face on so I was doing ok, but everyone seemed as calm. This is when I met my new nurse. She again had caring tearful eyes as she talked to me about my procedure but her presence alone was oddly comforting. She started to tell me about the doctor that was going to be preforming my biopsies. She mentioned that he was very good but he was a man of few words. She said that his silence may be uncomfortable but that she would be there with me. It was like she was inside my head because she quickly walked away and came back with news that I would now have a different radiologist performing the biopsy. I was assured that this doctor was not only amazing at what she did, but that she would also be there to talk me through the entire process. I will say that although it was painful, spending about an hour in a room with 3 other women was actually a very good distraction from what was happening. We talked odd or embarrassing medical appointments, our children, and the fact that my radiologist and I not only shared the same first name, but we also went on the same honeymoon. To be honest the room was full of laughter until I asked her if she could tell me what she was seeing. Although it took nearly 48 hours to confirm cancer, we left knowing the truth.
I have come to believe that there is nothing I could have done to prevent this and that everything up to this point in my life has prepared me for this very moment. You see, my journey with breast cancer started at the age of 13 when a very special aunt of mine was diagnosed herself. Although her journey was cut short due to a late diagnosis, it was still very powerful to everyone who knew her and it has forever changed me as a person. Her passing left a hole in my heart that I will never be able to fill, however I also feel that witnessing her strength gave me strength and determination very early in my own life. I know in my heart that this is why I connected with Vicki so deeply and knowing both of them has helped shape a big part of who I see when I look in the mirror today.
This past week has been full of every emotion possible, yet it has also been strangely calm at the same time. I have made a promise to Jordan, Corryn and most importantly to myself that I will face this with strength, confidence and determination and with the help of Vicki I am also promising to take time to focus on what I need right now. I know that my Aunt Pam and my dear friend John who passed away 2 years ago from Mesothelioma, are guiding me through. I know that I am not alone, and I am open to where ever this journey takes me.
In the words of Vicki, I am embracing my “Pinkness”. From the moment I heard the words “I think this is breast cancer”, a certain calmness came over my entire body and I felt completely surrounded by hope. Not only from my closest friends here in West Michigan (you know who you are) and my family, but also from everyone who has treated me at Lemon Holton Cancer Pavilion in the past week. My doctors and nurses have been truly amazing and have went WAY above and beyond to help guide me through this very difficult process. It’s hard to complain when the radiologist who performs your biopsy not only contacts you while on a family vacation in Colorado but also asks to meet you for coffee before your surgery and your nurse becomes more like a long-lost childhood friend who checks in almost daily. I cannot tell you how many personal numbers I have been given by medical professionals and how far these individuals have gone to help put me at ease. I believe even they were meant to be a part of this journey.
Since diagnosis last week the process has moved extremely fast. I have undergone genetic testing and I have met with a surgical oncologist, a medical oncologist, and a fertility specialist, a plastic surgeon and an entire oncology team as a second opinion. I am scheduled to undergo a bilateral mastectomy this coming Monday March 2nd. At this point I am being told a lot of positive things about my “cancer” but we will know a lot more after the surgery. I am strong and I am ready to face this head on.
As this word gets out it is getting harder and harder to keep up on voicemails,
texts, and emails so please check this page if you would like an update.